Translation misunderstandings can blemish leadership image!

At times, inadvertently the poor translation aspects can create a blot on the image of the leaders. For many people, translation may come out as a very easy task. But, in actuality it is not so.


The basic definition of translation is “the process of transferring text from one language into another”. Translator should not undertake the work of translation without having sufficient knowledge on the language from which it is translated – and the language into which it is translated.


A good example of what happens if the translation is done without having adequate knowledge of the phrases and idioms, specific to one language, is the recent most interviews conducted by one of the senior and praised journalists of India. With reference to the speech of KCR, the Chief Minister of Telangana, the journo started making assertions that KCR has said that he would bury the journalists alive and went on arguing that KCR’s intention was to kill journalists. Surely, it’s not his fault, for he is not a native speaker of the language (the Telangana dialect in which KCR had addressed the masses on September 9).

In this milieu, I would like to refer to one of the Humphrey Davies rules of translation, which states, “Consult the author about everything you don’t understand, and if s/he’s not alive, consult another native speaker who reads widely and intelligently”.


The translator whosoever might have undertaken the task probably might have translated of his own, or else, if at all (s)he might have consulted, (s)he might have consulted a person and sought the meaning, without bothering to explain the context in which he was seeking the information. I see no other probability behind such a great slip-up, which ultimately led to the tarnishing of the image of the Chief Minister of a state.


In order to justify my argument that translation misunderstandings can blemish leadership image, I would like to refer to the idiom “Pain in the neck” in English language as an example. If an educated and intelligent person is asked about the same, he would swiftly say that it means “irritation” or “annoyance”, whereas, there is a definite probability that it can be misinterpreted as the neck pain by the general public. Is it not so?


While explaining to my students about the importance of understanding the phrases and idioms of the languages, I used to emphasise the importance of understanding phrases and idioms properly. Such mistakes are sure to happen for obvious reasons. Even in the case I am referring to, just the same has happened. Nevertheless, it has led to a very long debate. I see no other reason behind the debate other than the misinterpreted translation aspects. Any sharp and educated person with command over native dialect could have interpreted it otherwise while undertaking the translation, but surely not the way it was understood.


Let it be a translator or a journo or any individual for that matter, it should be realised that translation is not a simple task as thought by many since there are always hitches in the job. There is a definite need to understand the context and cultural aspects native to the region, before any such practice!


Published by sumankasturi

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